Can't say no to happiness


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I sent the New York Times article to my grandma, who is now over 90 and doesn't have any health problems. She sent me an email saying how great it was that I was featured, but expressed concern that the diet itself is too extreme to follow for long. My grandmother is so healthy and sometimes I wonder why not just eat like she does, a no-nonsense Michael Pollan-style "eat food, not too much, mostly plants" diet. I suppose that with my involvement in sustainable agriculture, this would be my diet.

When I was at Stone Barns for the Young Farmer's Conference, that was the food that was served. Briefly, I thought that because it was so wholesome and from such a good place, I could indulge in the buttery scones, tangy bean chili, and whole grain bread with butter. This was the sort of food that has sustained my grandmother so well into her 90s, but by the second day I was doubled over in pain.

Whether it's because of genes or my upbringing... I don't know, but I and other younger members of my family struggle from health problems my grandmother is baffled by. That's how I discovered the paleo diet.

And in many ways I don't like the word "paleo" or "caveman" to describe the diet. In so many ways my own diet is not paleo, it's merely an evolutionary-aware diet that provided a framework to discover what foods cause problems for me. I could just have called it an elimination diet, but that would have eliminated all I've learned about evolution, other cultures, and food science. I never in a million gazillion years would have signed up for anthropology classes otherwise. I was an agricultural economics major and until I discovered the paleo diet, I thought I had no use for that.

It's interesting that so many of the biggest proponents of the paleo diet from Art De Vany to Nassim Taleb are economists. I think that is because this framework for thinking is actually fairly efficient. It's asking why certain aspects of modern life are crappy. The paleo framework, instead of waiting for scientists to develop pills for the problems, realizes that our ancestors didn't have such problems and tries to imitate what behaviors prevented them.

The reason I hated my food science classes was that the philosophy so reductionist....I remember my intro to food science professor telling the class that vitamins are just vitamins and it doesn't matter if you get them from fruit or from pills. More recent science is showing this isn't true, but the overarching point was that they snarked anytime you suggested their view was wrong, because hey, if there is no evidence that vitamins from pills aren't as good, then they must be just as good. They didn't even think to test traditional wisdom to prove or disprove its worth. That's why I like Loren Cordain so much, because that's exactly what he does and it makes so much more sense to study cultures where a disorder isn't present to figure out what they are doing wrong rather than tinker for untold hours in a lab.

Some paleo dieters fall into the trap of naturalistic fallacy, but the average paleo dieter is a technologically-savvy eccentric quants wanting quite simply to optimize their life the way they optimize their equations and code. We are constantly questioning foods, paleo or not, and asking if they make our lives better or worse.

Besides that, the paleo diet "lifestyle" framework is tons more fun and enriching to your whole life than just being, for example, dairy-free.